Standing Up

close up photo of book pages

Photo by Ravi Kant on Pexels.com

It has been a long time since my last post, but my students must come first.

I have a confession to make–I haven’t always believed that.

For many years of my career, I put myself ahead of my students’ education, always thinking about what I can do to make my work easier, to make myself look good, to further my career, to improve my “numbers” (recruitment, retention, and success rates).

Despite this, I think I was still a good teacher; self-interest and ambition are strong motivators to improve one’s performance. Also, one of my strengths is that I have always cared about my students as people. In addition, I still believe a strong liberal arts education means more than a ticket to a job but will help my students lead better, more productive lives. The non-pecuniary benefits of a liberal arts education are real.

And yet, I don’t think I always valued their education enough to stand up for it.

I have to get grading again, but soon, I will elaborate.

Until next time!

 

Mrs. Winkler Writes a Poem for Power

I am too small. I am too large.

I will never be small enough

Never large enough

Or smart enough

Never competent and capable enough to do all the tasks you don’t want to do

in a room you will never enter.

Yes, you trust me to teach developmental classes,

develop any curriculum,

complete all other duties as assigned

by just about anyone.

Credentialed. Yes, just not at acceptable places.

Oral Roberts University?

You’re kidding.

Can there any good thing come out of there?

Not good enough. Not good enough.

A trouble maker

The first one to dissent.

The first one to ask a question.

So many questions.

Me too?

But who cares what abuse you’ve endured

When you’re nothing special to look at.

C’mon.

Get over it.

That happened so long ago.

Your worth? Ha. Look at you.

But I know it.

I wrote it out moments ago–1,444 words so far

And I haven’t even scratched the surface.

So go on and treat me like a simpleton

who doesn’t know the first thing about teaching

then ask me to teach the unteachable.

Ask me to fill out another

damn

form.

Treat me as if I’m incompetent.

Then, ask me to develop another new course.

Then, wipe out all that I’ve done.

Go ahead and tell me to do something,

criticize me for doing it.

It doesn’t matter.

I know my worth.

And so do they.

And that–

That is the only thing that does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pet Peeves

woman holding her head

Photo by David Garrison on Pexels.com

Not earth-shattering. Not life-destroying. Not important at all in the grand scheme of things, or even in the niggling scheme of things, but here are some of my pet peeves. I freely admit that I peeve myself at times, and I’m sure, others as well. But here goes anyway–for kicks and grins.

  • Using st, th, and nd when writing dates–Example–January 1st, 2020. In American usage, the convention has been, and will continue in my teaching, to be–write January 1, 2020 and say January 1st, 2020. The problem is that the British often use the endings when writing the dates, leading to understandable confusion. I am an anglophile from way back, so I’m not dissing the Brits, but I am also an American English teacher, so I will teach American standards. Here’s more about it from Daily Writing Tips: January 1 Doesn’t Need an “st” 
  • Placing the end mark outside the quotation marks–Example. She said, “We are in America, so we should use American punctuation conventions”. Yes, we should, and in American English the punctuation almost always goes INSIDE the quotation marks. “We should use American punctuation conventions.” Here is more on the subject from Grammarly: Does Punctuation Go Inside Quotation Marks?
  • Leaving out the possessive apostrophe OR adding an apostrophe with a simple plural. We need apostrophes, yet we don’t need apostrophes. The rules are simple:
      • Use an apostrophe with contractions or to show possession.
      • Do NOT use an apostrophe with a simple plural.
      • If the word ends in s, then generally the apostrophe comes after the s, but there are significant exceptions, such as when using irregular plurals.
    • It seems insignificant, and maybe it is sometimes, but not using the apostrophe when appropriate and using it unnecessarily can both lead to misunderstanding and also drives Mrs. Winkler crazy!
    • An example–I cant attend the New Years party, but I dont want to go to Sherrys house again because I dont like her childrens’  loud toys’ that company’s seem to love selling at this time of year.
    • Now my spell checker caught dont, Sherrys, and childrens’, but not the cant , Years, toys’, and company’s because although the spellcheck programs are more and more sophisticated, they are not (yet) sentient and can’t replace a writer’s own careful editing and revision.
    • Here’s more on the subject of apostrophes from Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), one of the first and still one of the best: Apostrophe Introduction
  • It’s and its, a problem that gets its own category. Its own category–no apostrophe because it’s a possessive pronoun. It’s a possessive pronoun--I used an apostrophe because I am using the contraction It’s to mean It is. I think people understand the rule for the most part, but its an easy mistake to make (I did that one on purpose. I swear). Here are the rules again (not trying desperately to be clever this time):
    • It’s is the contraction for It is–Example–It’s snowing on January 5, 2020. The little trick I give my students is, “Can you say, It is in place of It’s? If so, then you have correctly used the apostrophe.
    • Its is the possessive pronoun–Example–The horse chewed on its hay. I understand why people get confused here: Its is a possessive pronoun. We hear the word possessive, and we immediately think apostrophe, but I tell my students, think of it this way– we don’t write hi’s car or his’ car do we? Nouns that show possession use apostrophes; pronouns that show possession do not. Here is an exercise to practice distinguishing between the two from one of my favorite grammar sites–Grammar Bytes: Word Choice–Exercise 13
  • Capitalizing when one shouldn’t and not capitalizing when one should. Okay, I get it that people don’t want to capitalize. It is sooooooooo much trouble to hit the shift key and type a letter, especially when writing with a smart phone. But increasingly I am seeing words that should NOT be capitalized being capitalized, especially doctor, lawyer, mother, father, even brother and sister, as well as a myriad of other words that should not be capitalized in academic writing. I am not too peeved by occasional unnecessary capitalization, often the person is just trying to show respect, but often capitalization errors show a lack of concern for proper writing, even when the person is writing assignments for a composition class! Here is more about capitalization from Grammar Girl: When Should You Capitalize Words?
  • I definitely get peeved when a person does not capitalize the personal pronoun “I” when emailing an English instructor. Come on, guys! Get with the program!

How much can an English teacher take?

 

cover_springsummer2019

I promise I won’t get peeved with you if you submit your best work for publication in my bi-annual literary magazine Teach. Write. Submissions are open for the 2020 spring/summer edition until March 1. See submission guidelines here. 

Questions

black and white business career close up

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Soon I will have time to write, but tonight, it is not to be, chéri.  No watching baseball with my hubby, either. Too much to do. But I don’t want any more time to go by without posting about one of my persistent concerns–high school students taking college classes.

Here is an interesting, balanced article from Joseph Warta, a homeschooled young man writing for the conservative educational think tank The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal: Dual-Enrollment: A Head start on College or Empty Credentialing?

Warta points out both positive and negative aspects of his Career and College Promise experience at a North Carolina community college with his primary complaint being that his college classes lacked rigor, which I had never heard before. The complaint I hear most often is that my classes are too difficult.

But, of course, not all colleges or instructors are the same, are they?

I turn grades in on Thursday, graduation is Saturday, and then the summer. I will be teaching online–a pilot eight-week freshman English course that I will certainly blog about because I truly love curriculum design.

It’s funny, isn’t it?

When I went to Auburn, the university was on a quarter system; then, it moved, with most of the rest of the college and university system, to a semester system, and now the move is back to quarters. What goes around, comes around.

Seems to be true of education especially, doesn’t it?

 

Three of Five: More “Easy” Ways for Students to Improve Their Writing

fashion legs notebook working

Photo by Stokpic on Pexels.com

The following is the third in a series of five assignments I give early in my freshman composition classes to help students find relatively easy ways to revise their papers. I find that it helps students, especially many community college students who may not have done a great deal of writing in high school. The “Five Easy Ways” offer students five almost grammar-free issues to look for in their papers. I have found that when students locate these issues and re-write the sentences containing them, then their writing improves, sometimes just a little, but enough for them to begin to better understand the process of revision and editing.

Here is the assignment as given to my online freshman composition students:

Five Easy Ways to Improve Your Writing–Part Three–Eliminating Unnecessary Words and Phrases–

Often people make the mistake of writing the way they speak, which often times causes unnecessary wordiness. Other times writers “throw in” extra words and phrases, perhaps because they think their sentences need to be longer to “sound” more academic when in reality, concise writing has been proved more effective time and time again.

To practice eliminating unnecessary wordiness, complete the following activity:

  • Write an illustration paragraph with the following topic sentence (filling in the blanks, of course): A good ______________ is _____________________, _______________________ and ________________________.
  • Example of an appropriate topic sentence: A good restaurant is clean, with a nice cozy ambiance, has a welcoming staff that treats all guests as special patrons, and of course, serves delicious food with a variety of healthy options, plus a few naughty choices just for fun.
  • Support the topic sentence with at least one specific example of each of the three characteristics (five to eight sentences).
  • Examples of the kind of specific detail that I’m looking for: Never Blue, one of my favorite restaurants in downtown Hendersonville, has a variety of healthy choices on its menu, including homemade hummus and house-cured salmon, but some naughty choices also, like the incredible “Devils on Horseback” (goat cheese-stuffed dates) and the sinful phyllo-wrapped chocolate confection simply called “The Brownie.”
  • Write a final supporting example or a concluding sentence for a paragraph that is 7 to 10 sentences long–no more, no less.
  • Revise the rough draft. Here’s a guide
      • Re-write any clauses that begin with “There” or “It”
      • Eliminate any use of first or second person pronouns (I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours, you, yours, etc)–Re-write, if needed

    Eliminate any use of the following words or phrases–Re-place these words and phrases or re-write, if needed.

      • very
      • really
      • a lot
      • lots
      • due to the fact that
      • extremely
      • that said
      • Well (as a filler word, okay to use it as an adverb)
      • as a matter of fact
      • totally
      • actually
      • See other deadwood words and phrases to avoid by clicking on this link: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/plague.htm
  • Submit the rough draft and the revision ON THE SAME DOCUMENT and submit. Be sure to label the rough draft and the final draft, so I know which one to grade.
  • Remember, I want to see a great deal of descriptive, specific examples, not just generic supporting points.

 

I like giving these shorter paragraph assignments early on in first-semester freshman English because I can give extensive feedback more easily and students get some concrete ways to revise their papers early on.

If you have any suggestions for ways that students who are not used to writing academically can learn to revise and edit their papers more easily, please share!

 

35CCB4F0-960F-43DD-9348-E2C6A8D04B40

 

I also would love it if you would consider submitting to my literary journal designed for writing teachers, Teach. Write. My fourth edition is slated for publication on April 1, 2019. Deadline for submissions is March 1, 2019. See the submission guidelines for more information. Previous editions are free online.

 

 

The Second of Five “Easy Ways” for Students to Improve Their Writing

man using laptop on table against white background

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s been a busy time for me, and I haven’t had much time to work on the blog, but I had a good response from my first posting about five easy ways for students to improve their writing, so I didn’t want any more time to pass before the next installment.

The first of the five easy ways was to eliminate the use of first and second-person pronouns in academic writing. I can hear someone saying right now, “Just like an English teacher, not following her on rules,” but I tell my students that there is a time and place for using the first and second person; however, with so many bad writing habits around, eliminating them altogether for a time often helps people to control their use. The time, I tell them, lowering my reading glasses to peer at them, is in my classroom.

The same is true for the next of the five easy ways: Avoid beginning sentences or clauses with “There” and “It.” When community college students, many of whom are unfamiliar with the process of revision, are encouraged to find words and phrases that should be eliminated or avoided, what tends to happen is that they will often need, or even want, to change much more about the sentence than just the one word. Sometimes they make their overall sentence structure much stronger and clearer by recognizing one or two things that need to be avoided.

Therefore, I ask students to avoid beginning sentences with “There or “It” rather than eliminate them, but elimination is best. In the paragraph assignment described below, I ask students to eliminate the words “there” and “it.” But I begin with a curious request: I ask them to write a paragraph where every single sentence or clause begins with “there” and “it.”  What?

Take a look!

For the next paragraph assignment, I want each student to write a paragraph on one of the following subjects, but here is the trick–every sentence or major clause should begin with either “There” or “It”–that’s right–every sentence or major clause. Doing this should make sense when we do the next assignment

Begin with a topic sentence that contains the main idea, and write five to eight sentences that support that main idea and then write a concluding sentence.  Be sure to use specific sensory language to create a dominant impression as explained in the text and on the video.

In your paragraph describe one of the following

The lake at BRCC

The Patton Parking Lot

A classroom at BRCC or some other room

The Patton Building

The General Studies Building

Since you are online students, you may not be familiar with these places, so choose a room, building or other feature of any school that you attend, your home or the city or town you live in. It should be somewhere near Blue Ridge, though.

Example:

General Studies 115

     It is a plain room that, in the end, is quite remarkable. There are four white cement block walls. There is one blank wall, one wall with a bulletin board and two walls with white boards.  There is a bulletin board in the back that has been there for over five years, its blue background fading. It once had bright red trim, now pepto-bismol pink. It has old flyers from long ago events tacked here and there. There are tables and hard plastic chairs, a few broken ones. There is no sound except the hum of the ancient data projector and the rattle of the ceiling vents. It is a typical old classroom in one of the oldest buildings on campus. It is without life, until the first student, back pack slung over his shoulder, wanders in and takes his seat.

After the students have turned in that paragraph, I assign the following: 

You probably have guessed what I want you to do. I hope so, anyway.

I want you to take the paragraph you wrote for Assignment 2.2 and eliminate all uses of “there” and “it.” Might be harder than you think, but the exercise will hopefully make you more aware of how much we overuse these two words.

NOTE:  Don’t forget your first lesson–No first or second person pronouns either. 

Use my rewrite as an example (I begin with the original paragraph, so you can see the changes that I made). Notice that I took out words, added words and totally rewrote some sentences to better conform to good descriptive writing techniques. You should do the same.

Original Paragraph: 

General Studies 115

     It is a plain room that, in the end, is quite remarkable. There are four white cement block walls. There is one blank wall, one wall with a bulletin board and two walls with white boards.  There is a bulletin board in the back that has been there for over five years, its blue background fading. It once had bright red trim, now pepto-bismol pink. It has old flyers from long ago events tacked here and there. There are tables and hard plastic chairs, a few broken ones. There is no sound except the hum of the ancient data projector and the rattle of the ceiling vents. It is a typical old classroom in one of the oldest buildings on campus. It is without life, until the first student, back pack slung over his shoulder, wanders in and takes his seat.

Revised Paragraph

Student Name

Katie Winkler, Instructor

ENG 111.202

13 January 2018

The Old Classroom

     The plainest of rooms in one of the oldest buildings on campus is, in the end, quite remarkable. Standing in the front, listening to the ancient data projector and ceiling vents hum and rattle, the instructor, a 23-year veteran, faces a bulletin board, mostly blank, with just a few outdated event flyers tacked on its faded blue background, its once bright red trim now Pepto-Bismol pink. Brown tables and hard plastic chairs in conforming rows stand silent, or languish in the corner–broken and of little use. Then, the room, and all its occupants, like old, loyal soldiers, come to attention when the first student, backpack slung over his shoulder, wanders into the room.

Note: The two bold words (its) are being used as possessive pronouns in this paragraph and are therefore allowed. The contraction “It’s” would not be allowed. 

I have only used this assignment for the past two or three semesters, but I have had excellent results. Do students continue to have issues with overusing “There” and “It”? Of course, but, after this lesson, they have two easy things to look for when tackling the required revisions of rough drafts.

The third easy way will be coming your way soon!!!

NOTE: I neglected to mention in the last post that I am indebted to the classic little book on composition The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White for the development of my Five Easy Ways series of lessons. One of the greatest, and most accessible, books on writing, The Elements of Style, practices what it preaches–be concise and clear, my dear.

cover

Do you teach English composition or have you had a positive writing experience with a gifted composition instructor? If so, please consider submitting a short story, poem, or essay to Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. Submissions are now being accepted for the Spring/Summer 2019 issue and will close on March 1, 2019. Click  here for submission guidelines.

 

 

Thinking about Pittsburgh

549cac67c4e3a80f69f5d5a065621db1

davidpwhalen — morguefile.com

In light of recent events, I have been thinking a lot about Pittsburgh. This weekend at the North Carolina Writers’ Network’s fall conference in Charlotte, I was inspired to write the following after a great panel on the importance of place in writing:

 

City Chicken

When I moved to Beaver, PA, in 1983, I was 23, just graduated from Oral Roberts University, Lord help me, and had come to work at a small Christian school outside of Pittsburgh. I grew up an army brat, who moved from place to place north, south, east, west, yet always carried the South with me as I traveled with my loud, boisterous, loving Alabama family.

Part of my heritage is a powerful streak of non-conformity, independent even from the strong political, religious, and social mores of southern society. So when I was still jobless a couple of weeks before graduation and was invited to apply for a job teaching English and German at Rhema Christian School in Aliquippa, PA, a major steel town outside of Pittsburgh, I didn’t hesitate. It was a grand adventure, moving to a brand new place to explore and new people to meet.

The first thing that struck me when I arrived that June day and was picked up at the Pittsburgh airport was how dang humid and hot it was. Despite that similarity with my home state, on the way to the school from the airport, I knew I wasn’t in AL anymore. The rolling hills were larger than those of the Alabama plains. Instead of one story brick or wooden houses, spacious lawns and pecatrees, we passed two story homes huddled close together in the valley and scattered over the hills, big red barns decorated with brightly colored quilt patterns I know now are PA Dutch Hex signs, long rambling steel mills belching smoke, and the bridges! Silver train bridges beside the huge arches of yellow ones crowded with cars and trucks, moving in and out of small bedroom

Pittsburgh’s bridges

Bandini at morguefile.com

communities and Mill villages.

 

On the way to the school after leaving the interstate, we passed a Perkins Restaurant, a chain, I was told, much like, but not at all like, Shoney’s in the South. On the marquee I read that the week’s special was City Chicken—city chicken? I thought it was weird but let it go as my nerves took over in anticipation of my first teaching job interview. 

I got the job and moved two months later. Almost my whole family helped me move. We had fun exploring Pittsburgh—the drive through the Fort Pitt tunnel.

Point state park in pittsburgh

Bandini —morguefile.com

opening up to its impressive view of the city during the beginning of its renaissance, lunch at an Italian place, claiming the best pizza in The Burgh, beautiful Point State Park, right where two rivers came together to form the mighty Ohio. Then, hugs, kisses, tears, and they were gone, back to Al together. I was left alone with a map and my dad’s advice on the best route back to my new home.  

After crossing four or five bridges and traveling down numerous wrong roads, I finally found the right one and headed to Beaver. It was getting late, I was already homesick, frustrated that I had lost my way, and therefore powerfully hungry, when I saw a marquee in front of yet another Perkins restaurant, or maybe it was Eat ‘n Park, anyway, the special, according to the sign, was city chicken.

close up photography of orange rooster on brown wooden bench

Photo by Yves Chaput on Pexels.com

I took the bait, parked, was led to a booth, and without thinking or asking or reading the menu, ordered the special from my young, perky, big-haired server.

She wrinkled her nose. “Did you say City Chicken?” Not the first time that day someone had trouble with my accent

“Yes, Ma’am.” I said, smiling.

She gave me a curious look but said nothing. A few minutes later she placed before me a huge plate of meat on a big pile of fluffy white rice with a side order of broccoli. I took a whiff and was suddenly transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen as she prepared fried chicken and rice for a Wednesday night church supper before prayer meeting.

My mouth watering, I took a bite. Oh, my, it wasn’t  chicken at all. City chicken, turns out, is big fat juicy, deep fried pieces of pork tenderloin on a frickin’ stick. It was not like anything I had ever tasted before. But, man, I thought, feeling I had not, after all, made the biggest mistake in my life, it sure was tasty.